Next month my one and only child will turn 18! Yeah, that’s right, I said 18. Can you believe it?
One of my favorite things to do is get reactions from people when I tell them this. When I take my daughter out for coffee or out to a restaurant, I have to prepare myself for the dirty looks that people usually throw my way. A guy I know, who recently saw me at a coffee shop having coffee & emphatic conversation with my daughter, later told me that he was concerned about me counseling young girls by myself. You should have seen the look on his face when I told him that the young girl was my daughter. He was stunned! When we’re out, most people guess that we’re a couple, that we’re cousins, that we’re brother & sister, but not one time has anyone ever guessed that we’re father and daughter!
I have to admit that makes me feel pretty good. No one likes to look old, and I am certainly no exception. As my daughter’s 18′th birthday fast approaches, I have been doing a lot of thinking and reminiscing about her life and our parenting of her over the years. As young parents, there were certainly plenty of challenges. I have also been thinking about leadership under the law, leadership in the church, and how parenting will lead to a picture of both. In light of these thoughts, I would like to share with you what I believe are three monumental truths that I think you might find offensive and yet liberating at the same time.
Parenting Young Children Was Easier For Me Because It Was A Picture Of The Law
When I think back to the days when my daughter was a little child, parenting was much simpler and more defined. The relationship between my daughter and my wife & I back then was certainly more hierarchical to say the least. We told her when to eat, how much she had to eat before leaving the table, when to take a nap, when to go to bed, how to respond to people, and how she should respond to us as parents. There was no persuasion involved in her obeying the commands we gave her. We said it, she had to do it. If she did not obey what we told her to do, there were consequences. She learned quickly that we were in control, not her. The relationship was most definitely hierarchical.
I could never understand parents of little children who felt like they had to negotiate simple commands with their children. Children don’t have the capacity to think in complex ways and therefore need their parents to set boundaries for them and make decisions for them. When our daughter was little, we literally were in charge of most aspects of her young life. It seemed simple and easy.
As our daughter grew older, we knew that would entail more freedom. That was never easy as mistakes, (both on her end as a young person and on our end as parents), were made with this new freedom. Freedom brought more choices and more potential for mistakes. Every time these things occurred, I longed for the simpler days of the past when my daughter was younger and there was simply less choices and more rules.
The older she becomes, the less that hierarchy is a part of our relationship. As my daughter approaches adult life, she is making more and more decisions on her own. A few years from now, the dynamic will change even further, especially if she gets married. As a result of this, I have realized that the way I lead my daughter must and should radically change from the way that I led her when she was a child. If the way I led her at 5, 15, and 25 stayed the same, that would be just plain weird.
If we look in the Old Testament, we can see the same thing. God’s people literally had to be told what to do in almost every aspect of life through the Law. This was to show them the character and nature of God’s holiness, and it was also meant to protect them as well.
When my daughter was young, she needed a lot of external guidance to help her make the right choices. Now that she is older, she must rely on an internal guidance to guide her decision making process. Does my adult daughter still need leadership in her life? Absolutely. I still believe that I need to have a leadership role in her adult life, but this role will be more as a persuasive leader than a hierarchical one. This brings me to my second point:
Parenting Adults Is Harder For The Same Reason That Church Leadership Is Non-Hierarchical
Most parents with adult children that I have talked to have found out (the easy way or the hard way) that it takes more than an appeal to hierarchy to lead them. Don’t believe me? Try telling your 25 year old son or daughter that he or she cannot get up from the dinner table until they eat all of their lima beans. If they try to defy your command, tell them you are their parent, and the Bible says children are supposed to obey their parents. (That is an appeal to hierarchy) Let me know how that works out for you.
Obviously, that is a ridiculous example, but you get the point. At this point in their lives, you want them to be governed by something internal. This is a picture of life in the kingdom. Before Pentecost, the people of God were not grafted into His Son. They had to be governed by an external law. After God’s people were grafted into the Son at Pentecost, they were now governed by the indwelling Spirit of Christ. According to Galatians 5:18, those who operate by this indwelling Spirit cannot operate under the law. When we are governed by the Spirit of Christ and of life, we no longer need to be governed by the law of sin and death.
As I mentioned, this greatly affects leadership in the kingdom of God. We can see this radical shift from Law based leadership to kingdom based leadership in Jesus’ own statement about kingdom leadership:
But do not be called Rabbi; for one is your teacher, and you are all brothers…Do not be called leaders, for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. (Matthew 23:8, 10)
This was a profoundly radical teaching on leadership in Jesus’ day, and it is still radical. This goes against the world’s system of leadership, and that includes the world’s religious system of leadership as well. Notice the reason behind the new understanding of leadership. It is because ‘ALL’ are brothers, and there is only one leader who stands as head over them. That is Christ. This removes the possibility of human hierarchy. (I told you it was a radical teaching by Jesus)
Although Jesus’ teaching about kingdom leadership should be the grid and filter through which we understand all the other passages in the New Testament regarding church leadership, this has unfortunately not been the case. I speak from experience as a Bible college graduate and as a former institutional Pastor. What I was taught completely ignored & contradicted the heart and spirit behind Jesus’ teaching on kingdom leadership in Matthew 23:8-12. Instead, I was taught to emphasize passages of scripture that seemed to suggest hierarchical church leadership in the absence of the framework that Jesus laid down in Matthew 23:8-12.
While I could give you numerous examples of this, for the sake of brevity, let me just focus on one verse that is regularly taken out of context in order to promote a false view of hierarchical church leadership. As an institutional Pastor, I regularly used this verse incorrectly to appeal back to hierarchy. The verse is Hebrews 13:17:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
When taken as a stand alone verse, this verse does seem to imply a hierarchical form of church leadership. If we keep in mind what Jesus taught in Matthew 23, however, there has to be another explanation. If we’ll look at this passage from Hebrews closer, we’ll see that this verse is not hierarchical at all. As a matter of fact, it is just the opposite! Let me explain.
There are a couple of Greek words that can be translated as ‘obey’ in the New Testament. The most common Greek word for ‘obey’ is the word (‘Hupakouo’) and signifies a hierarchical and authoritative understanding of obedience. That, however, is NOT the Greek word that is used in Hebrews 13:17 for ‘obey’! Are you surprised? The Greek word that is used for ‘obey’ is actually the word (‘Peitho’) which literally means ‘to persuade’ or ‘to win over’. The Greek word for ‘submit’ is the word (‘Hupeiko) which means to ‘yield’. Greek scholar W.E. Vine says this about Hebrews 13:17:
The obedience suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion.
That changes things a bit doesn’t it? Can you imagine a military commander trying to ‘persuade’ the troops under his command? Can you imagine a parent trying to ‘persuade’ their child not to run out into heavy traffic? It wouldn’t work very well.
Persuasive leadership, however, is exactly the kind of leadership that is suitable for my adult daughter now, and is the kind of leadership that only works within the church. I would like to say that just because we are governed by the indwelling Spirit of Christ, this does not mean that we do not need to receive leadership. For example, my adult daughter still needs leadership in her life. It simply means that this leadership is persuasive in nature, and ultimately she is in control of her choices. I cannot mandate her obedience based on hierarchy anymore. Trust me, that would be much simpler, but ultimately this would not be good for her. This is also true in church life as well.
We are commanded to be a people that allows our leaders to persuade us, and as leaders, we would do well to appeal to persuasion rather than hierarchy. If you study the cults, they usually have leaders that demand obedience based on position or rank, certainly not persuasion. Honestly, this sounds a lot like how the world’s religious system operates as well.
As a dad, In some ways, I am finding it harder to parent my daughter now that she is older. There are things I desperately want to show her, and ways that I want to direct her that have to do with her well being. She has to desire that guidance, however. It cannot be forced. I have found that it is only when people recognize that they have issues, that they begin to look for help with those issues.
It is only when people, or church communities, are willing to recognize that they have issues and need help with those issues that they are willing to be persuaded by leadership. Until then, it can be a painful waiting game. Sometimes people and groups become more open to being persuaded by leadership when they get desperate. Many times it is hardship, failure, and brokenness that eventually lead to desperation and openness to being led. As a parent, or as one who loves the church, that can be painful to watch.
There are many more passages in the New Testament (like Hebrews 13:17) that need to be re-examined from outside of an institutional hierarchical filter. A great resource that throughly examines biblical passages about church leadership, as well as many other related issues, is a book called ‘Reimagining Church’ by Frank Viola. I highly recommend it. If you’d like to look into these things a bit further, please purchase a copy of that book. Click here to purchase a copy of this book online. This bring me to my third and final point:
Most ‘Institutional’ Church Leadership Is Designed To Control The Masses, But True Biblical Leadership Is Designed To Persuade The Few
‘More is better’ in the world’s way of looking at things. If you look at the way Jesus did things, however, the opposite seems to be true. As soon as Jesus obtained a large following, He seemed to say or do something that drove the masses away. For example, when someone came to Him telling Him they would follow Him anywhere, He seemed to not make it easy by telling them that He was homeless. Jesus was always weeding out people.
Jesus did not lead the masses, and the masses were fickle. They turned on Him pretty quickly. Jesus seemed to focus on the hungry few however. He shepherded those in the community that served and followed Him. Jesus was the ultimate shepherd (pastor). Do you know what the basis of this pastor / sheep relationship was? It was an intimate knowing of one another. In John 10:14, Jesus says:
I Am the good shepherd, and I know My own, and My own know Me
This is beautiful. This was not just a theoretical quote by Jesus. He really did know the sheep He was shepherding. The ‘knowing’ of one another is key. Shepherding is a component of the life of Christ that is demonstrated in the body of Christ, and it will come about because of a relational knowledge of one another.
I am always amazed when I talk to people at large Mega Church institutions that refer to the man who preaches to them behind the pulpit weekly as their ‘Pastor’. Sometimes I ask them if they know the person personally. Nine times out of ten, the answer is “No, not really”. Most institutional ‘Pastors’ are busy people. Most have never shared a meal with their ‘Pastor’. Most have not spent a significant amount of time with them. There is simply no personal relationship there. It is all formal. When I ask them: “On what basis is that guy who stands behind the pulpit week in and week out your pastor?” I usually get a response that goes back to title, not relationship like Jesus demonstrated and taught in John 10:14.
I could say much more about all of that, but you get the point. If you want to control a large group of people, you simply teach people to submit to titles, offices, and positions. This is what governments do, this is what employers do, and this is what the institutional church system does as well. In the kingdom, however, it is much different. Jesus appeals to His relational knowledge of us, and us of Him.
In the church that Jesus envisioned, and in the case of my soon to be 18 year old daughter, true leadership will have to depend on something much more profound than title or hierarchy, however. Just some food for thought.
For His Bride,